Power electronics maker Empower Micro Systems is aiming to make home solar-plus-storage simpler by cutting the amount of equipment that people need to install.
Its new Genesys 8K modular smart home energy platform is made up of just two components instead of a minimum of eight offered by competitors.
“Where we’re really focusing on is to have a unified platform, from a power electronics point of view, that can be applied to residential solar, as well as having a modular and scalable system for energy storage,” said Mika Nuotio, Empower’s CEO.
The Genesys 8K is designed to address the fact that each residential solar-plus-storage installation needs a different set of power electronics components to work properly.
As such, solar and storage equipment distributors and installers are required to keep different types of units on hand. This puts pressure on warehousing, transportation, installation time and system reliability, all of which adds to the cost of residential systems.
One of the two components in the Genesys 8K system is what Empower calls the PowerBridge module-level Fractal Inverter, which takes care of PV’s unidirectional and storage’s bidirectional charging characteristics.
The other is called a PowerHub, which Nuotio described as “a smart energy combiner” that provides a single connection to a service panel behind the meter and can support multiple, series-connected AC strings of PV or storage modules.
Besides combining module strings, the PowerHub performs grid safety functions, including abnormal voltage and frequency detection.
The Genesys 8K lets homeowners and installers avoid the need for different inverters for solar and storage modules, or the need to buy an inverter with a battery already integrated into it, as is the case with the SMA Sunny Boy Smart Energy system launched in 2014.
In the U.S., Empower also expects the Genesys 8K to be popular with installers and end users because one of its safety features is in compliance with the 2014 National Electrical Code's Section 690.12 regulations covering rapid shutdown of PV systems on buildings.
The need to comply with this regulation, which was brought in to assist firefighting crews concerned about electrical hazards in emergency situations, has led to the use of module-level power electronics in more than 60 percent of residential solar installations, Nuotio said.
Following revisions to the code this year, “we expect that percentage to increase,” he said.
Empower is looking to sell its power electronics systems to component manufacturers such as inverter makers, by either licensing patents for the underlying technology or carrying out turnkey product design for third-party manufacturing.
The technology is currently “at a premium over standalone string inverters,” Nuotio said. But “that is changing rapidly.
"My view in a three- to five-year perspective is that module-level power electronic platforms like ours will be on parity or even lower cost than a string inverter," he said.
Empower has been developing the technology for the last five years, after emerging from the ashes of failed "inverterless inverter" maker ArrayPower in 2013.
“The fundamental premise that we set out solving was how can you create a module-level power electronics platform that is not inhibited by high costs or reliability tradeoffs,” Nuotio told GTM.
The company has also been conscious of a growing need to cater for hybrid solar-plus-storage systems in the residential market.
“Talking to experts in the field, like leading manufacturers in Germany, in the residential space, more than 50 percent of energy storage is not going to be in standalone systems but rather in hybrid systems,” Nuotio said.
“We have to look at one platform that can serve the needs of solar standalone, storage standalone and hybrid solar-storage systems, and can be configured in a modular way to meet the consumer’s demand.”
Analysts at GTM Research noted that the Genesys 8K launch is part of a growing trend toward incorporating storage into solar inverter technologies.
“There's a lot of discussion going on in the storage space about the best architecture and inverters for residential systems,” said GTM Research energy storage analyst Brett Simon.
“Folks are increasingly trying to shave balance-of-system costs, especially given that residential system prices are still quite high and that the focus to date has been around reducing battery costs, which still form a greater share of total system costs," said Simon.